(Geneva) The European Union, Great Britain and Japan have maintained their reservation on a possible lifting of patents on anti-COVID-19 vaccines at the WTO, a representative of this trade organization said on Monday.
Posted on May 31, 2021 at 7:17 p.m.
France Media Agency
Proposals to start discussions based on specific texts to allow a waiver of intellectual property rights to vaccines against the coronavirus were welcomed at an informal meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) devoted to the section commercial intellectual property rights.
But several member states “continued to express their doubts on the advisability of starting negotiations and asked for more time” to analyze the proposals going in this direction, specified this official.
These countries are those of the EU as well as Australia, Japan, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and Taiwan.
Agreements within the WTO must receive consensus support from all 164 member states.
South Africa and India are leading a campaign to relinquish intellectual property rights to coronavirus vaccines, so that each country can produce doses.
These two countries presented a revised proposal in this direction, which received the support of 63 Member States at the WTO. In addition to the lifting of patents on vaccines, this proposal wants to extend it to treatments, diagnostics, medical devices and protective equipment, as well as the materials and components necessary for the manufacture of vaccines. This exemption from intellectual property rights must last for at least three years, before the General Council of the WTO may decide to extend this period, according to the text of this proposal.
But differences persist over whether, and to what extent, intellectual property rights protection is preventing an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
They also concern the possibility of using or improving the flexibilities already existing in the agreement on the trade aspect of intellectual property of the WTO, known by its acronym TRIPS.
Questions also remain on the duration and the deadline of such a waiver of intellectual property rights, further explained this official.
Pakistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia and Kenya are some of the countries wishing to start negotiations, he added.
In contrast, the EU said the priority was rather to increase production and lift restrictions on the export of vaccine components.
Switzerland, where there are many pharmaceutical companies, believes that the WTO should rather explore the flexibilities already existing within the TRIPS agreement before giving it up completely.
The United States has said it is open to opening negotiations on any proposal to address the current vaccine shortage. China for its part has indicated its desire to move forward on this file, the initial proposal on this subject having been submitted last October.
A new TRIPS council meeting will take place on June 8-9.
More than 1.9 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have already been injected worldwide, according to an AFP count. But only 0.3% of that total was administered in the 29 poorest countries in the world, yet home to 9% of the world’s population.
Advocates of the lifting of vaccine patents believe that it will significantly increase production in the poorest countries.
The rich countries and their pharmaceutical industries have always opposed it, but their positions have evolved in favor of a change in attitude of the United States, now ready to consider this lifting of patents. Several countries, including France, seemed to join this position.
Patents on anti-COVID-19 vaccines “should in no way be a brake” on the immunization of populations, French President Emmanuel Macron said last Friday during a visit to South Africa.